“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Bullet Points or Peace Points

In a discussion in my current Open University module, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, someone mentioned the Imperial War Museum Exhibition People Power: Fighting for Peace.  Cutting a long discussion short:

Me:

There’s something about the words “exploring how peace movements have influenced perceptions of war and conflict” that troubles me.  I think it is the implication they have achieved nothing other than change perception.  As if it is the output from a War Studies course, rather than Peace Studies.  Certainly that web page has not been written by someone immersed in the peace sector as they would not have used the title “Fighting for Peace” as it is not considered proper to use that expression any more (“working for peace” instead), just as it is not considered appropriate to wear camouflage as a civilian (camo baby’s bootees – why?) or use bullet points in presentations (use “peace points”).

Alternatively, is it merely focused purely on that aspect (influencing perceptions) of the peace movements?

Damn this module!  Now I am more interested in who constructed this exhibition, why, who for, who paid for it and what is their agenda than I am in the exhibition!

A contributor (paraphrased):

The effectiveness of such peace efforts are open to debate, for sure, but surely history has shown that perceptions matter greatly, particularly public perceptions.  I have to ask though:

use bullet points in presentations (use “peace points”)‘.

As for bullet points being ‘inappropriate’, since when?  Is that a joke?  If so, it went right over my head.  surprise

My response:

I find some of the hard liners in the peace movement difficult to relate to, but once one has been given an awareness of the militarisation of everyday language, clothes, euphemisms, education and so on, it starts to become glaringly obvious.  In the case of words, the fear is that routine adoption of military language into everyday life normalises violence as a default response to anything requiring action.

One becomes entrenched (I’ve never dug a trench), attacks a problem (I’ve never beaten up an equation), uses bullet-proof arguments (I actually use normal paper), takes flak from objectors (I can’t even fly), works on the front line (i.e. answers the ‘phone) and so on.

To eliminate sexism, it was necessary to remove certain words from our everyday language so that they could not be used to denigrate women when referring to them.  It’s not about how they feel about those words, it is about the effect they had on us men and, therefore, how society functioned.

To eliminate racism, other words that were used without thought are now verboten – we would never dream of using them in writing.  Again, this is not because of the reaction but on society: if derogatory, generalising or belittling words are used to define groups then one assumes those groups are deserving of being treated that way.  (Why did I use ‘verboten’?  Because it has a cultural association with a violent and potentially fatal reaction as a punishment; being associated with Nazi militarism it is a far stronger word than merely ‘forbidden’.  Doing so also reinforces our traditional view of the Germans.)

Likewise disability or other forms of difference from “the accepted norm”.  You need words to create boxes to put people in so they can be managed as a group in a certain way.  Once the language has been created and established for that group, it can be re-used on another, and another, and another.

It comes out of the likes of linguistics philosopher Wittgenstein (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”), military writer von Clausewitz (education, culture and the media are foundations for war) and social psychologists.  For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: our world view can only be constructed from the words we have to describe it.  It is a well-known and well-established concern: extremists of all sorts have wanted particular books burned because of the political or religious ideas they convey – if people cannot read the books, they won’t get the ideas.  Words are dangerous; words convey emotions and reactions.

If we rely on military words for dealing with civilian problems, then military solutions become the default solution because that is how we think.  If we can change the language to use positive verbs and adjectives rather than violent ones, it would change the mindset of the public toward how they should be resolved.  Hence a drive in the peace movement to not use military terminology in a civilian context.

Hence ‘peace points’ not ‘bullet points’.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

Lest we forget

An exchange on an Open University forum.

Fast Forward

 ‘Named, unnamed. Remembered, forgotten. They all did that trick the dead do. Whether they died immediately, more or less immediately or later, they all did that trick. From living human being to corpse – the fastest transition in the world.’
(Robert Mc Liam Wilson, Eureka Street)

As I lie here
crimson rivers stream by
painting obscene pictures on my brain.

Beside me
half a young man’s face, open minded, sanguine
looks on. He was smiling

when he ceased to exist.
That girl has something recognisably human about her meat,
others have been blown entirely to bits,

soft unresisting flesh to be scraped up and shovelled
into plastic bags. Cajun dust settles on carnage.
Does a meld of politics ordnance and circumstance

explain all this? In the aeons after the blast
in the ringing piercing silence
in my head, I hear distant white coated voices,

‘Treat only those you think you can save,’
as the last sigh of life escapes my torn lips
unheard; the fastest transition in the world.

Sheena Bradley, 2012

Me: Lest we forget.

Sheena: Do you think there might ever be a time, a decade or a century when there is even a slight chance we could forget? I doubt it.

Me: There’s always hope.

I’m aware “Lest we forget” has different meanings to different people and in different contexts.  With hindsight, it was an inappropriate response to your post, Sheena, and I’m sorry I made it.  I was thinking of the Great War, not the Troubles.

For me, “Lest we forget” means “never forget the suffering we bring upon ourselves by blindly following orders to subject others to violence”.

For others it seems to mean “Never forget what sacrifices others have made for you, so be prepared to make sacrifices for them”.  There “Lest we forget” is used to promote what was Veterans’ Day and is now Armed Forces Day – but why don’t we also celebrate Peace Day with parades and banners?  There’s money and street closures made available to celebrate the military, but why not the Fire Brigade too, for example – they also put their lives on the line for us and they do it more often – what makes the military so different?  I’m coming round to the way of thinking of Forces Watch, that such events are the marketing activities of the arms industry, making killing palatable and something to be proud of.  And that way of thinking leads to “Lest we forget” meaning a demand for patriotism, nationalism and bigotry, where expressing a preference for peaceful solutions gets one called a coward or a “terrorist sympathiser”.

Then there’s the version of “Lest we forget” that seems to me to be the underling problem to finding peace in Northern Ireland, the perpetuation on both sides of “Never forget what those b~~~~~~s did to us”.  The perpetual generation of hatred, especially as indoctrination of the young.  Earlier this year we witnessed in Glasgow an Orange parade – bands and marching and banners and crowds coming out to watch the spectacle.  All I could see were bitter old men and angry middle-aged men wearing orange sashes, and lots of small boys dressed in military uniforms looking all proud to be maintaining the tradition.  The atmosphere was just anger and hate; it was appalling and pathetic to see.  It is nothing like a Scouts’ St George’s Day parade and poles apart from the likes of Warrington’s Walking Day.

As well as talking, listening and reconciling, there’s an awful lot of forgetting needs to be done in and around Northern Ireland: forgetting to maintain the tradition of instilling children and young adults with blind hate.  It makes us sick when Moslem extremists like IS do it, and when Christian extremists like the Lord’s Resistance Army recruit child soldiers in Africa.  So why is it OK for religious extremists in the British Isles to recruit children to propagate and perpetuate their militaristic tradition of violence and hatred against their fellow people?  And it would help if we quietly dropped Armed Forces Day in Northern Ireland too – it is counter-productive having the British Army setting an example of militaristic street marches.

For the love of God, as a society, can we please just stop passing on a tradition of hate and instead learn to forget?

 

PS: Airstrikes kill civilians.

War and Peace in the Lonely Planet

Just reading the Lonely Planet guide to Scotland’s Highlands & Islands and a couple of lines stood out.  Firstly, about violence:

The Vikings were probably no more blood-thirsty than the Romans, Picts or Celts, but they made the fatal public relations error of attacking the monasteries, which produced all the history books from the medieval period.

Alternatively, it could be they had a reputation for brutality because they attacked the monasteries; and it wasn’t a bit of light shop-lifting from the monastery visitor centre shop.  Top tip to modern day marauders: stop destroying religious sites, it gets you a bad name that lasts quite a long time.

Secondly was about the construction of roads into the Highlands as part of the suppression / taming (choose your own standpoint) of the clans:

New military roads were driven through the glens and garrisons were established…  As a side effect, the new roads increased trade between the Highlands and the lowlands, reducing the traditional suspicion of Highlanders in the lowlands and exposing the Highland clan leaders for the first time to the wealth of the lowlands.

So, from this interpretation communication and trade finally brought peace in Scotland.  I wonder what high speed rail links and motorways into Afghanistan and the Middle East might achieve.  Form—or find—the Afghanistan Tourist Board, tell people what to visit, and communication and trade will increase.  So will understanding.  People are already going, and it’s not as bad as it was.  And here’s what the Lonely Planet web site has to say about it.

Meanwhile, the gov.uk web site says:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel.

with the latest bad news being from three days ago ‘13 May 2015 – an attack on a guesthouse/ hotel in Kabul‘.  What to do?  Leave them to their own devices, or go and buy trinkets and see one another as just people.  It reminds me of growing up in London when there were no tourists—except the brave Japanese, of course—because of the IRA.  England was seen as far too dangerous to visit.

I wonder where the reality lies?  And is the risk to the individual outweighed by the benefit to world peace?

Searching for peace sector jobs

It can be difficult finding jobs in any sector, but searching for those relating to peace has extra problems.  For example:

  • Just what is the sector called?
  • What qualifications can one search for?
  • What licensing requirements can one search for?

A search for ‘peace’ on the UK government’s job web site Universal Jobmatch highlights these problems for those wanting paid work working for peace:

  • Agencies who include ‘peace of mind’ as boilerplate text in every advert such as:
    • Our aim is to ensure that people have a job that is satisfying and rewarding, which in turn gives clients an enhanced service, as well as total peace of mind” (for a Healthcare Assistant role);
    • Our 20 year “Total Peace of Mind”guaranteeprovides a unique offering and we have RECC membership, MCS accreditation and a financefacility” (for a solar panels sales role for a company that cannot find the keyboard’s space bar);
  • Arbitrary use of ‘peace’:
    • Northampton is a thriving, colourful and developing town that offers affordable housing and is situated in Northamptonshire, and offers the restful peace of the countryside” although how a city of ¼ million people counts as ‘countryside’ I don’t know and there hasn’t been any affordable housing in Britain for over 30 years;
    • Youll be at peace developing cross-browser AJAX web applications” for a ‘C / ASP .Net Software Developer’ meaning the candidate will be told to do stuff they are not qualified to do but won’t complain;
  • Using ‘peace’ to mean the opposite of peace:
    • Ministry of Defence, Unit Photographer.  Provide photographic images to support, enhance, train and protect the unit’s reputation during times of conflict and peace” (note I had to correct the grammar in that advert);
    • WTF is a ‘Protection Insurance Adviser‘?  Isn’t that what the Mafia use to run their protection rackets?  “As a Protection Adviser you will be on hand [fist?] to recommend the very best suite of protection insurance products to our clients to give them peace of mind“;
    • For the peace of mind of our customers and our colleagues, we will carry out screening checks as part of our recruitment process” when they really mean their own security;
  • ‘peace’ in the recruitment agency’s name, such as Peace Recruitment who work “within the construction, property and engineering sectors” — so why are they called Peace Recruitment? (they currently need bricklayers in Edinburgh, BTW);
  • employers with ‘peace’ in the name such as GreenPeace who are recruiting door-to-door fund-raisers (“FULL INSPIRING TRAINING GIVEN“, poor sods) and chuggers which, in my book, is about as peaceful as a smack in the mouth;
  • companies oddly using WW2 to define their age:
    • a bus company: “through wartime and peace, we have improved the day-to-day lives of generations of people” !;
  • roles requiring a Moslem and so tangentially refer to ‘peace’, such as:
    • Imam.  Provide Islamic guidance according to Mohammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)“.
  • roles with a peaceful environment, which are a nice distraction to read about, such as:
    • Greenkeeper.  For those seeking peace and quiet, the site also offers solitude and privacy” – lovely;
  • recruiters such as Leah Peace who have ‘peace’ in their given name, with which I cannot get upset;
  • jobs where the word ‘peace’ does not appear anywhere, which are just a mystery.

But most of them are sales jobs selling insurance as ‘peace of mind’, meaning ringing people up and frightening them until they give you money.  How is that promoting peace in society?

It seems the people who want to be associated with the word ‘peace’ in their advertising do so because they are so far detached from the concept.

Of the 584 jobs returned today, two are actually related to peace: a lecturer and a research analyst.

From the above analysis one can assume that if you want to work in the peace sector, the odds are over 200:1 against success when searching for ‘peace’.  So a bit like real life, then.

Dinosaur poets

A fellow Open University student wrote in Dinosaur poets TM:

what is/are Poets

Can they die and emerge again

like Dinosaurians

?

which made me think of some of the First World War poets and haiku in response.

Brooke.  Grenfell.  Munro.
Owen.  Rosenberg.  Sorley.
Thomas.  Wilson.  Wyn. 

The Great War is history, and the poets above did not survive it.  But fragments of their work live on, typically preserved in stone, like the fossils of creatures who lived at a time before ours when great beasts roared across the earth, ripping gentler souls limb from limb in the quest for blood to spill and flesh to consume.

Which got me thinking about the metaphor of Hollywood B-movie dinosaurs as great monsters, roaring and killing like the great guns of the artillery blasting away at the soldiers in the trenches.

Children love to see reconstructed dinosaurs and stomp about roaring and pretending to be a T-Rex, chomping great chunks out of authority figures like parents and teachers and elder siblings.  Being so big and powerful that they can do as they like, ruling the earth.

Is this the childish, base desire that prompts people to like to watch war being made on the news?  Gore-porn as entertainment?  How advertisers are clamouring to get their products promoted alongside clips of people being beheaded, blown up, burning alive, shot and gently rotting in the sun?  The advertisers and media know what we like.

Civilisation is a transparently thin veneer.

“What’s the European union and why do we keep hearing about it?”

Another answer to a query from an aspiring author.

RJ: “What’s the European union and why do we keep hearing about it?”

Are the British Isles part of Europe, or some independent islands in the North Atlantic? What looks like a geography question is really a socio-economic question: do we want to be part of of Europe?

Firstly, what do we mean by “Europe”. Currently, that appears to be something called the “European Union”.

After a century of fighting Germany in ever expanding wars, in 1951 France formed the European Coal and Steel Community with them plus Belgium, Italy and others to pave the way for international co-operation that would make future central European war both unnecessary and undesirable.  And right there is a great example of an alternative to war being implemented.

This expanded in scope to include atomic energy and governance to produce, in 1957, the Economic European Union or EEC. For many years we debated in Britain: should we join the EEC? It was a difficult question because of the fear of loss of sovereignty.

The original French vision had been to create a single Europe with one government, one defence force, one agricultural policy and so on. This vision was quashed back in the 1950s by the founding countries as they feared the consequences of it and it seems they still don’t want it. It may have meant the loss of cultural heritage, loss of control, failure to recognise differences in values and loss of identity.

These concerns are what put us off: would be be forced to eat garlic sausage and other foreign muck, like snails?

In 1973, we took the plunge and joined. We immediately stopped driving on the left, started speaking French, began eating frog’s legs and stopped buying beer in pints. Well, maybe not. But there were changes, especially around trade, travel and the legal system.

This became the European Union in 1993 when we signed the Maastricht Treaty. Amazingly, this got little press at the time but it is one of the most significant events in British history. We also do not notice the changes it brought about.

Anyway, the European Union is the current name of this ever expanding organisation (although some surprising previous members have left, such as Algeria and Greenland). It expands both geographically and in scope and so is ever changing. And nobody enjoys change.

But after 40 years of membership we still drive on the left, don’t like garlic sausage, still can’t speak anything other than English and measure distances in miles.

So back to the question. “Do we want to be part of of Europe?

We’ve identified “Europe”, but who are “we”? Ireland wants in. Scotland, traditionally allied with France against England, wants in while nearly being out of the UK. Wales can’t make its mind up. And England? Who knows?

All you need to do is predict the future, and the answer to the in/out question will be clear.

How does one prevent war?

From a discussion about life goals:

How does one prevent war?

Stop others starting them by demonstrating they are not the most cost-effective solution and creating an environment where it is not in the starter’s best interests.